To mark Mental Health Awareness Week (14th- 20th May) Punter Southall Health and Protection, is calling for UK employers to tackle employee stress and better support their mental wellbeing by implementing mental health strategies which are championed by business leaders.

The company’s latest report ‘Employee Wellbeing Research 2018’, carried out in association with Reward & Employee Benefits Association (REBA) found that 60% of UK chief executives say mental health is the area of employee wellbeing they are most concerned about. It also highlighted that leaders increasingly recognise that high pressured working environments are putting their employees’ physical and mental health at risk.

Many employers are concerned about the rising cost of workplace mental illness. The government’s ‘Thriving at Work report' into mental health estimated the cost of poor mental health to UK business stands at between £33 billion and £42 billion a year. The report also found that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year and around 15% of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.

However, despite these stark figures, relatively few leaders are proactively supporting mental wellbeing. Punter Southall Health & Protection found that only 16% of employers have a defined mental health strategy in place, however, 37% plan to introduce one in the next 12 months and a further 26% by 2020. This suggests that by the early 2020s more than three-quarters (78%) of UK companies will have a defined mental health strategy.

John Dean, Chief Commercial Officer, Punter Southall Health and Protection says, “10 years ago nobody talked about workplace mental health, but it’s a major issue for employers today. Figures from mental health charity Mind tell us that one in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year; mental illness is hugely costly for employers and nobody wants staff with long term absences. The evidence is out there, but few business leaders are addressing the issue with a proper strategy or even talking about the issue enough and this needs to change.”

Dean says employers need to better understand their data as a first step. They can do this by analysing absence management figures, return to work interviews, employee surveys and the usage levels of EAPs and any insurance schemes to get a clearer picture of their issues.

Dean adds, “Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic event for companies to launch mental health strategies and raise awareness, however, one-off campaigns won’t create lasting change. A sustainable and meaningful strategy should be data-led and reflect the genuine needs of the workforce. Careful planning and quantifiable and measurable objectives are also needed. Companies that get this right involve their employees at every step and the board champions the strategy.”

“Regular two-way conversations about mental health from leaders to employees will help to end stigmas, but change won’t happen overnight.”

On a positive note, Mark Hashimi, Head of Workplace Wellbeing & Clinical Services at Mind, Hammersmith & Fulham, a guest speaker at the company’s recent Annual Wellbeing Master Class says every company can do something to change the way people think and act about mental health.

Mark says, “With 9 out of 10 people facing stigma because of mental health issues, a cultural shift is required in many businesses. I advocate ‘the 3Cs of culture change.’ It requires a ‘conscious’ organisation, committed to tackling mental health issues, with a clear mental health strategy and policies supported by leaders and communicated to employees; ‘competent’ management trained to proactively spot signs and act upon poor mental health and ‘confident’ staff who feel able to discuss their mental wellbeing without fear of discrimination.”

One way employers can support staff is by providing confidential telephone support services through their EAP or to engage an external service such as RedArc, a national long-term support service run by professional nurses.

Christine Husbands, managing director, RedArc says over the last 5 years, the company has seen a 3-fold increase in employees they are supporting with mental health issues.

Christine says, “People can feel stressed any time in their life and there are many causes. It could be poor physical health, pain or the illness of a loved one, work-related issues or strains on relationships with friends or family. With GP appointments harder to book and increased NHS waiting times, having access to a confidential service where people can turn to discuss physical or mental health issues with a professional nurse and get timely access to appropriate therapies is a life line for employees and a great benefit for employers to offer as part of their wellbeing strategies.”read more